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Churchill Canada Polar Bear tours - How to plan your trip!

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Churchill, Canada Polar Bear tours

Churchill in Manitoba, Canada, is world famous for polar bear safaris due to its unique location just south of the Arctic Circle and on the shores of the vast Hudson Bay.  Although quite southerly, due to its unique geography and geology, and the prevailing ocean currents, Churchill is the first place where winter sea ice forms in Hudson Bay. This is turn attracts Polar Bears from hundreds of miles around eagerly awaiting the first ice so that they can head offshore as soon as possible to spend the winter hunting seals out on the ice floes.

The bears begin to congregate close to the shoreline to the east of Churchill at the beginning of October, and their numbers swell as the month progresses and on into November. When the ice finally comes, usually in mid to late November, there is an overnight mass exodus and the bears aren’t seen again to the following June when the ice breaks up again.

Best time to see Polar Bears in Churchill Canada

For people looking to take a polar bear tour in Churchill they need to think about the season overall and have clear expectations of what they will see should they arrive in early October and compared with early to mid-November. The polar bear viewing season can be roughly divided into early and peak season; although with the warming of the autumn/winter period in Manitoba the early season is getting later and later. To give you an idea of what this means in practice, when I first visited Churchill I landed at the airport on October 31st and the temperature outside was 9 Celsius; with hardly any snow on the ground. Some people ideas of polar bear watching comes from BBC or National Geographic documentaries, showing the polar bears in Arctic conditions hunting seals, but that is not the ‘scene’ in Churchill, as these are polar bears waiting for the ice to form and without snowy conditions to clean their coats, they can look rather yellow out on the tundra – still beautiful though.

How to get to Churchill in Canada

The main entry city for Churchill is Winnipeg, Manitoba, which is easily accessed from most major cities in Canada. Winnipeg is a small city compared to its cosmopolitan neighbours, but is the perfect gateway for Churchill and the polar bears. There are daily flights from Winnipeg to Churchill, or if you are feeling adventurous, how about a 2 night/3 day rail journey with VIA rail across the white frozen tundra (well it will be by mid-November!) and arriving at ‘the end of the road’ at Churchill. For hundreds of years this has been a real working town with the Hudson Bay Company based here and in recent years, a huge storage depot for grain. However the recent closer of this facility means that polar bear tourism in Churchill is more important than ever for this frontier town.

Polar Bear watching in Churchill Canada

Although peak polar bear season is dominated by 2 or 3 local operators, there is more flexibility if you search a little deeper and have the flexibility for a longer stay. The main polar bear tour operators focus on 3 to 4 night stays in Churchill with two tundra buggy excursions looking for the bears. These are full day excursions including lunch. When you take to the fragile tundra in huge wheeled buggies which can carry up to 40 passengers. The other more expensive option is the Tundra Lodge; which is basically the opportunity to sleep out on the Tundra in a fairly basic converted buggy. This allows pretty much 24/7 polar bear observation and is ideal for serious wildlife photographers. Finally there is a third, more exclusive option, whereby you fly by bush plane with skies, or helicopter, to a polar bear lodge around 20 minutes north of Churchill. The activities at these lodges are more varied, with walking safaris looking for bears and wolves part of the program. It is not uncommon for polar bears to come write up to the large picture windows at the lodge and provide incredible close ups. These polar bear lodges can also be good for northern lights.

Best tours to see polar bears

Since we are a truly bespoke travel company, we take the time to work with you and find the best polar bear safari which matches your aspirations, budget and timeframe. We don’t want to work on 1 or 2 day fly-in tours from Winnipeg as that diminishes the wildlife experience. However if you are looking to save money then we show you how to put together a budget polar bear tour in Churchill in early season. However if you want the best chance to see polar bears with a snowy background, colder temperatures and more bears gathering outside Churchill on the tundra waiting for the ice to form, then check out our peak season polar bear tours. Finally, if you want to follow the path less travelled, get away from the crowds and experience a more intimate polar bear viewing tour then find out all about the exclusive polar bear lodges run by Churchill Wild.

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